Reviews of Governance - why and how
The ESFA's Accounts Direction states that each college's annual Statement of Governance and Internal Control MUST include a section on the corporation’s performance, including an assessment of its own
effectiveness. Governance evaluations and board reviews are now common place across both corporate and non-profit sectors, including the education sector and from September 2021, an external review of governance is required every 3 years. There is consensus that Board performance must be considered and measured. Governance experts agree that regular, third-party-administered assessments of board performance are a crucial component of good governance. This has been evidenced by studies carried out by a number of organisations such as the Harvard Business School. Benefits of such a review include:
- Provide a check on progress against the college’s mission and objectives and the governing body's contribution to it;
- Provide accountability to key stakeholders;
- Highlight the governing body's achievements and impact;
- Identify areas for governance improvement and identify KPIs;
- Provide a focus for the college in an evaluation of its performance and ongoing improvement;
- Provide objectives and benchmarks for measuring the governing body's performance for the coming year;
- Enable more effective group dynamics within the boardroom
The key focus of any review, be it an internal review, supported self-review or external review, should be on the support and development of the governing body, and therefore should include a clear action plan to take forward any recommendations.
The purpose of an external review of governance is to inform a continual process of self improvement, which might include making changes to the board, and that disclosure should provide evidence of a robust process and a willingness to act on the outcomes. By doing so, the board can provide some reassurance
to stakeholders that it takes its responsibilities seriously and is endeavouring to carry them out to the best of its ability. This purpose is preferable to an evaluation providing an assessment of whether the board
is or is not effective, in either absolute or relative terms, and that the purpose of disclosure is to provide assurance as to the future performance of the board and organisation. The reasons for not making the focus of an external governance review about giving assurance, is that doing so would result in board evaluation becoming a backwards-looking compliance exercise that generated little value; that it would
reduce the board’s willingness to be open with the reviewer; and that it would raise unrealistic expectations as to the ability of the review (or reviewer) to prevent future failings.
Board Evaluation Guidance Note
A Guidance Note is available for download below, detailing further the purpose, implementation and impact of governance evaluations and board reviews.
Governance4fe Board Review Service
We work in accordance with the DfE's current guidance on External Board Reviews and the Chartered Governance Institute's Code of Practice for board reviewers. Further details are available on our Board Review pages.
Board Effectiveness Evaluation Questionnaire - A framework for effective governance in FE colleges
This suggested framework which takes account of the DfE's governance competency framework, downloadable below, considers the principles and personal attributes which, alongside the commitment of time and energy to the role, underpin effective governance, together with the knowledge and skills required for effective governance. These are organised into those which are essential for everyone on the board, together with those expected of the Chair. This evaluation can be used internally or by an external facilitator in a supported self-review.
Committee Effectiveness Reviews
Where a college has chosen to operate a committee structure, or even when it only has the obligatory committees such as Audit and Search, it is essential that such committees are supporting their governing body in an optimal way. This can be facilitated through having clear roles and responsibilities and schemes of delegation, and an annual review enables continuing quality improvement of the committee's work.
Such a review allows members of the committee and the board to see how the committees are functioning and if they are fulfilling their role for supporting the governing body to achieve their governance roles and responsibilities for strategy, oversight of risk, legislative compliance, financial scrutiny and engagement responsibilities. Key areas to focus on when undertaking a committee review, include:
- The Terms of Reference of the committee (roles and responsibilities)
- Membership of the committee (skills, knowledge and experience)
- Functions, outcomes and impact of committee meetings (culture and behaviour)
- Reporting structure (information flow up to and down from the Board and Senior Leadership Team)
The findings of such a review should be shared with the whole Board to ensure that the actions following the review are recorded and acted upon to strengthen the effectiveness of committees and individual governors, thereby improving the governance capability of the Board.
Committee Effectiveness Evaluation Questionnaire
A suggested generic committee evaluation questionnaire is available for download below.
Governance Development Plan
A Governance Development Plan (GDP) will be drawn from an evaluation undertaken by governors, and possibly other stakeholders, either led internally or with outside facilitation. This normally takes place via the circulation of a questionnaire or online survey. An example board effectiveness evaluation questionnaire, which takes account of the DfE’s governor competency framework, can be found above. On completion of such a self-evaluation, the collated responses should give a clearer picture of what the governing body is doing well and those areas for improvement. This evidence should be discussed amongst the governing body in order to get an understanding of how it can become more effective, efficient, and have greater impact in enabling the college’s strategic objectives to be achieved. A Governance Development Plan can then be drawn up, showing actions, evidence and impact. An example Governance Development Plan is available to download below.
Setting Governance KPIs and measuring and reporting on the extent to which the board has a positive impact on the college’s performance, is a difficult undertaking as such KPIs are often subjective measures that can lack objective validation. The KPI conundrum is that not everything that is worthwhile can be measured and not everything that can be measured is worthwhile! However, by setting governance KPIs, this can assist the board in clarifying its perceptions of the board’s impact on the college’s performance, the extent to which they relate to other aspects of board performance and how this information can then be translated into potentially high-leverage board development efforts, thereby enhancing the overall college performance.
Governance KPI Guidance Note
A Guidance Note detailing further the process for setting KPIs, along with suggested Governance KPIs and a monitoring chart, is available for download below.
Governor Training and Development
Information of governor training, alongside links and template documents, are available under Tools and Support - Training on this website.
Board Impact Reporting
Good impact reporting is an essential part of impact measurement; it allows the Board to learn from its work, and it promotes a culture of accountability and transparency. However, many college boards struggle with what to measure and report on. There is no right or wrong way to go about this – some colleges use the Ofsted areas of judgement, others, governors responsibilities under the I&As.
Our primary business is to create social and economic change through education, so we need to report on the difference we’re making. If you’ve ever had an uncomfortable meeting with an Ofsted Inspector, either as a governor or governance professional where they’ve said. ‘stop telling me about what you’ve done and start telling me what the impact of it is’, you’ll understand why this activity is so important and you may already be well along the journey of impact reporting. Below is a guidance note with example, to support this activity.
From Good to Outstanding
In the not too distant past in educational governance, governance itself was a separate grading with Ofsted. Outstanding governance plays a key role in improving a college’s overall performance and many of us are seeking how to achieve it.
When Ofsted previously judged governance as a distinct part of the leadership and management grade, the measurement was as follows: The effectiveness of the governing body in challenging and supporting the organisation so that weaknesses are tackled decisively, and statutory responsibilities met.
Times have moved on since the above judgement and whilst there remains no single model of success, there are some key characteristics of governing bodies that have achieved excellence.
Firstly, it is about how governors carry out their work efficiently and effectively and secondly, it is about the contribution that governors and college leaders consider they make to strengthening college leadership.
To find out more on the topic of Outstanding governance, download the guidance note below.